With so much style and attitude to spare, Atomic Blonde maintains an infectious level of kinetic energy even if won’t exactly tax the brain.
This ultraviolent espionage thriller approaches sensory overload as it follows a female secret agent caught up in a web of deception and betrayal while taking out bad guys with almost video-game precision.
Taking place in the days prior to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the film follows Lorraine (Charlize Theron), who refuses to trust anyone while able to match brains and brawn with just about any of the male adversaries she encounters.
Her latest mission for British intelligence, told mostly in flashback to her superiors in London, finds her in Germany, trying to retrieve a valuable dossier with compromising information about MI6 from the hands of a Russian defector (Eddie Marsan) and various henchmen.
Along the way, Lorraine cautiously finds allies in David (James McAvoy), a fellow agent with loose-cannon tendencies, and Delphine (Sofia Boutella), an alluring French operative whose lesbian advances toward Lorraine seem to have ulterior motives.
Theron’s charismatic performance puts a feminist spin on 007 territory as the strong and sultry action heroine who whispers and mumbles most of her dialogue, preferring to let her fists and feet do the talking.
Meanwhile, the ubiquitous 1980s pop soundtrack provides a pulsating rhythm while capturing a nostalgic era of boom boxes and break dancing. In one amusing sequence, Nena’s “99 Luftballons” (fun fact: originally conceived as a German antiwar anthem) serenades the beating of a random thug to a bloody pulp with a skateboard. Another example features Lorraine systematically bludgeoning a whole building’s worth of East Germans, set to George Michael’s “Father Figure.”
As directed by rookie David Leitch (a former stuntman who served as a co-director on John Wick), the film’s dazzling array of vibrant color schemes and camera movements provides some over-the-top eye candy.
Amid its backdrop of political volatility, the screenplay by Kurt Johnstad (300) — based on a British graphic novel — yields a few mildly intriguing twists but mostly is just a functional bridge between the barrage of brutal action scenes.
So Atomic Blonde is ultimately an exercise in spectacle over substance. Still, even if the well-choreographed fights, chases, and shootouts don’t add up to much, they do provide quite the adrenaline rush.